Aleece Raw, who'd been in internet marketing since the early 1990s, suddenly found her trajectory shifting a few years ago. "I woke up to food three years ago," she explains. "My mother and sister are cancer survivors, and I decided to go to natural chef school. I told them, 'I don't know where this is going, but if I save my life or one of your lives, it will be worth it.'"
While in school, Raw interned at Kate's at 35th Avenue, a restaurant located in a Victorian house in Park Hill that Lynn Smith had owned since 1982. "I really liked the place," says Raw. "But I had no idea what I was going to do."
Last year, her schooling complete, Raw took a trip with her mother and sister to California, where the wheels started turning. "We sat in the kitchen, played cards and ate for a week," she says. "And my sister said, 'We should open a restaurant together.'"
Raw was intrigued. "I've been a vegan for three years," she explains. "In natural chef school, I learned to make juices and smoothies, nut cheeses and kale chips -- basically how to make healthy food taste really good. In Denver, there aren't a lot of good options if you're vegan or gluten-free or raw, and I like turning people onto it."
Still, she initially thought the idea would be part of a three-to-five-year plan. But last summer, Smith called and asked if Raw would do a little marketing for Kate's, which Smith was trying sell; she said she'd pay a commission if Raw could find a buyer. And that's when Raw jumped. "It was less expensive to buy this property than my house in Wash Park," she explains. "And I could live upstairs. So I called my mom and sister, and they got big eyes, too, so we just decided to go for it."
After some remodeling of the building -- the family stripped the wallpaper off the walls and gave the place a new coat of paint -- she'll soon reopen the space as the Garden, a vegan, gluten-free cafe with an emphasis on locally grown ingredients.
A changing menu will highlight dishes that Raw hopes to use to help people understand how they can eat healthy on their own; the food will pair to a wine and beer list that focuses on local producers. Among them is Infinite Monkey Theorem; Raw says she plans to highlight the winery because it donates 1 percent of its proceeds to the University of Colorado cancer center.
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The entire venture will be family-owned and operated. "My nephew, Jake, is our first full-time employee," says Raw. "He lives on the third floor, and I live on the second."
Initially, the Garden will be open just on Saturday and Sunday from 11 a.m. until 4 p.m. for brunch, along with hours set aside for special events, like screenings of films that relate to food. But that could soon change. "We've already had a lot of requests from the neighbors to open during the week," says Raw, noting that the family may eventually add Friday lunch and happy hour.
The Garden's grand opening is slated for February 4.